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Daily Howler: Todd got rolled by Wasilla's top shrinks, like famous ''fools'' before him
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PURDUM DRINKS THE EVERCLEAR! Todd got rolled by Wasilla’s top shrinks, like famous “fools” before him: // link // print // previous // next //
MONDAY, JULY 6, 2009

About the Weymouths: Oh for god’s sake! We may have confused out Weymouth nicknames in Friday’s report (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 7/3/09). Apparently, there’s only one Lally Weymouth; that’s the daughter of Katharine Graham, the occasional foreign policy writer. We thought Katharine Weymouth, the grand-daughter and current CEO, was called that too. Or something like that.

You must state your questions in the form of a letter: Credit where due! Readers of the Washington Post are permitted to see sensible overviews of the health reform debate. Indeed, such an overview was permitted in Friday’s letters section! The writer critiqued George Will’s recent ludicrous column, in much the same way we had done (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/29/09). And omigod! He even cited those basic, astonishing facts about the foreign experience:

LETTER TO THE WASHINGTON POST (7/3/09): George F. Will attributed America's high health-care costs to the demand for expensive technologies and new treatments. But that theory doesn't hold up when we look at how other countries deliver health care. Mr. Will could have gained insight from former Post foreign correspondent T.R. Reid, who teamed up with PBS's "Frontline" last year on a special called "Sick Around the World."

According to the "Frontline" report, Japan boasts "the best health statistics in the world. The Japanese go to the doctor three times as often as Americans, have more than twice as many MRI scans, use more drugs, and spend more days in the hospital. Yet Japan spends about half as much on health care per capita as the United States." The secret? In Japan, everyone must buy insurance, and insurers cannot turn away a patient for a preexisting illness; nor are insurers allowed to make a profit.

Here are the questions we should be asking: Why are we the only developed democracy in the world without universal health care? Why do we spend twice as much money on health care as other nations? And why do these other nations boast better health results? Mr. Will tried to answer only the second of these questions in his column, and he failed.

M— G—
Silver Spring

The writer asked the world’s most obvious questions. Unless you’re a mainstream journalist, in which case such questions must never be asked.

For the past fifteen years, your press corps (and your career liberal world) have failed to ask those obvious questions—have failed to trumpet that letter’s astonishing facts. For that reason, we’re now assembling a Rube Goldberg health care machine, with an astounding array of possible whistles and levers driving the projected contraption. From Shailagh Murray in today’s Post:

MURRAY (7/6/09): For the next five weeks, Congress will attempt the daunting feat of turning a mishmash of half-written proposals into health-care reform legislation that can pass the House and the Senate before the August recess.

Let the trade-offs begin.

Murray described a depressing array of possible whistles and levers. We were struck by this possible lever, the first:

MURRAY: In the days to come, Democrats will make critical decisions that will begin to define the bill's winners and losers. One moving target: who receives insurance subsidies. The Senate Finance Committee is considering an income threshold of 300 percent of the poverty level, or $54,930 in gross annual income for a family of three, to keep the legislation's 10-year cost at $1 trillion. For example, a single person earning $35,000 per year who does not have coverage today would be required to buy it under the legislation but would probably not receive help in offsetting a policy's cost, which averaged $4,704 in 2008.

That person would pay a large chunk of his income—to help his country attain what Japan already has at half the per capita cost! In return for his contribution, he’ll get an insurance policy he’ll rarely use if he’s young and healthy.

But don’t worry! It isn’t a tax!

Murray describes the invention of a vast Rube Goldberg machine. If her readers perused Friday’s letter, they may be struck by the sheer absurdity of what she (accurately) describes.

Most readers won’t be so lucky. The facts and figures in that letter have been mentioned quite sparingly in the past fifteen years. Under terms of a manufactured consent, that letter’s questions have very rarely been asked.

Gigantic sums are thereby shoveled into various corporate pockets. Who is raking off those sums? Except in the very occasional letter, you’re not encouraged to ask.

Today’s good news: Lady Weymouth has canceled that health care salon. It would have been held right in her home. The session would have been off the record—and it would have “sponsored” by Kaiser.

PURDUM DRINKS THE EVERCLEAR: In September 2008, Sarah Palin became the worst nominee for president/vice president in modern political history. For starters, she was young and unprepared. Beyond that, she simply didn’t seem to be smart enough. And she was baldly dishonest.

On balance, Palin was a horrible candidate. But when it comes to dumb and dishonest, she can’t hold a candle to the upper-class poovs who cover her comings and goings.

How dumb is Todd Purdum, to cite one example? Purdum is so dumb—and dishonest—that he’s cited by Maureen Dowd!

Maureen Dowd you already know. Purdum is the gruesome husband of former Clinton aide Dee Dee Myers—and a star at Vanity Fair. Last July, he published one of the most repulsive political profiles we’ve ever seen—a supremely slick/slippery hatchet job aimed at the vile one, Bill Clinton. Among other things, Clinton called Purdum “a really dishonest reporter,” “a real slimy guy” and a “scumbag.” And uh-oh! Bill Clinton was right!

Currently, though, Purdum is a liberal hero, revered for his repeat-all-the-tropes-for-the-rubes-in-the-Hamptons pseudo-profile of Palin.

How surpassingly stupid (or dishonest) is Purdum? What follows is one of the passages from his profile—a passage to which the hapless Dowd refers in her current column. But then, many pundits inside Versailles’ walls have gaped at the discovery reported in this passage.

By way of background: Purdum had journeyed to the forty-ninth state, hoping to get the real dope on its governor. And this is what he learned:

PURDUM (8/09): More than once in my travels in Alaska, people brought up, without prompting, the question of Palin’s extravagant self-regard. Several told me, independently of one another, that they had consulted the definition of “narcissistic personality disorder” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—“a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy”—and thought it fit her perfectly.

Wow! “Several” Alaskans told Purdum, independently of one another, that they thought the DSM definition of “narcissistic personality order” perfectly fit their governor! Purdum is paid to understand politics, yet he was simply amazed by this fact—or at least was prepared to pretend. (Note: For people like Purdum, “several” means “two.”) On Sunday, a world-class dimwit repeated this news, as others in her cohort have done:

DOWD (7/5/09): Todd Purdum learned, as he traveled Alaska reporting on Palin for Vanity Fair, that the governor’s erratic and egoistic behavior has been a source of concern for people there.

“Several told me, independently of one another,” Purdum writes, “that they had consulted the definition of ‘narcissistic personality disorder’ in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—‘a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy’—and thought it fit her perfectly.”

The White House can drive its inhabitants loopy. So at least Sarah Palin is ahead of the curve on that one.

Actually, no—you can’t get dumber. Why is that dumb? Here’s why:

As everyone except a professional political journalist would know, it has been quite common, for years, to say that [insert name of disfavored pol] perfectly fits the DSM definition of that disorder. For example:

Yesterday, we googled “Bush AND narcissistic personality disorder.” The third citation came from a New York magazine piece—a piece from January 2007. The piece was written by John Heilemann, a gentleman who is less completely clueless than ninnies like Purdum and Dowd:

HEILEMANN (1/29/07): Yet it’s worth considering the possibility that Bush’s madman-at-the-wheel métier owes as much to psychological factors as to structural ones. For some time now, armchair psychiatrists have argued that Bush suffers from a classic case of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, citing his sense of grandiosity (“I’m the decider”), his arrogance and lack of empathy, and his tendency to surround himself with sycophants as evidence.

Duh. As Heileman noted more than two years ago, that armchair diagnosis had been routinely extended to Bush “for some time now.” Meanwhile, just google “Obama AND narcissistic personality disorder!” You’ll see that this troubling diagnosis has been extended to the current president even more than to the last one. But Purdum was simply blown away when [two] people extended this diagnosis to Palin—independently of one another! The imbecile Dowd was so gobsmacked that she rushed Purdum’s finding into print.

Might we state the merely obvious? This familiar diagnosis got extended to Palin as soon as she hit the national stage. Yesterday, we googled “Palin AND narcissistic personality disorder.” The third citation was this expert amateur diagnosis from (where else?) The Huffington Post. It appeared on October 16, 2008. The fourth citation was this expert amateur diagnosis from The Daily Kos. It appeared last October 6. In short: In all fifty states, people like Purdum’s [two] sources began to hear this diagnosis soon after Palin got picked by McCain. He hardly had to mush to Alaska to pick up on this news.

Is Purdum so dumb that he didn’t know this? Or is he just pretending? Is he just a “really dishonest scumbag,” the way Bill Clinton said? As always, there is no way to tell. But might we offer a note about psychiatric writing like this?

For obvious reasons, journalists have long been discouraged from offering psychiatric diagnoses of major politicians. Had Purdum offered that diagnosis of Palin himself, he would have been laughed out of the business. Question: How does a dishonest scumbag escape the bounds of this convention? Simple! He simply quotes several regular people independently offering the diagnosis! That way, he gets the “diagnosis” bruited around. But he isn’t the one who said it!

Back to our original conundrum: Is Purdum really that dumb, or is he just being dishonest? Let’s assume he’s really that dumb. This recalls an historical precedent.

In service to the American people, Purdum journeyed to darkest Alaska. He was amazed when “several” people cited that DSM diagnosis. It’s hard not to think of Gene Lyons’ portrait in Fools for Scandal—his portrait of the big national reporters who arrived in Arkansas in 1992 and got played for perfect fools by a gang of resident yokels.

Arkansas journalists had long stopped listening to these well-known local nuts, Lyons wrote. But when our journalistic “elite” arrived in Little Rock, they got taken to the cleaners by this gang of crackpots and knaves. Soon, elite reporters began repeating the crackpot claims Arkansans had learned to ignore. By 1999, Gennifer Flowers was being dragged onto cable shows (Hardball and Hannity) for half-hour and hour-long segments. During these segments, she discussed, at considerable length, the Clintons’ many murders.

The trashing of Clinton made a huge difference. Because she wasn’t going anywhere anyway, the trashing of Palin will not. But Purdum is slippery, dishonest—unwell. And one more thing: If he isn’t pretending to be amazed, he’s about as dumb as they come!

But then, it’s hard to get dumber than Purdum. He’s so dumb, he gets cited by Dowd!

Henneberger blown away too: Could life-forms of this earth be this dumb? We wondered when we read Melinda Henneberger’s reaction to Purdum’s profile. Sure enough, the former New York Times reporter was blown away by the DSM diagnosis too! “Anyway, what grabbed me in the piece was Purdum's reporting that the feeling back in Alaska is that Palin has some of the symptoms associated with Narcissistic Personality Disorder.” So wrote Henneberger, whose peculiar 1997 news report helped invent a tragic claim: Al Gore says he inspired Love Story! Inane columns by Dowd and Frank Rich had started the wave. Henneberger’s odd, lengthy news report set the tale into stone.

She was on the same page with Dowd back then. They’re on the same page today.

Make no mistake—that Love Story bull crap sent Bush to the White House. It was the first building-block of the press corps’ foundational theme for Campaign 2000: Gore is a liar, just like Clinton! To visit Henneberger today, brace yourselves, then click here.

Naughty boy spanks Naughty Monkeys: Dowd was eager to repeat other blather from Purdum’s pseudo-profile. “Maybe there’s another red Naughty Monkey high heel to drop,” the simpering lady mused—echoing a reference from a naughty fellow’s report.

In his profile, Myers’ husband described a recent appearance by Palin, furiously diddling himself as he did. This comes from his second paragraph:

PURDUM: As Palin makes her way slowly across the crowded ballroom—dressed all in black; no red Naughty Monkey Double Dare pumps tonight—she is stopped every few inches by adoring fans.

Palin double dared to wear such shoes when she was introduced by McCain last August. Silly, sex-starved boys like Purdum have been stroking themselves about her peek-a-boo footwear ever since. So have silly journalistic women. Go check Henneberger again. Truly, it just never ends.

Drinking the Everclear: Let’s be frank. Purdum is paid to hack to the Hamptons crowd—to reinforce their world views. That may be why he typed the following passage. This is the part of his tired profile we ourselves found most striking:

PURDUM: Sarah Palin herself is a microcosm of Alaska...In the same way that Lyndon Johnson could only have come from Texas, or Bill Clinton from Arkansas, Palin and all that she is could only have come from Wasilla. It is a place of breathtaking scenery and virtually no zoning. The view along Wasilla’s main drag is of Chili’s, ihop, Home Depot, Target, and Arby’s, and yet the view from the Palins’ front yard, on Lake Lucille, recalls the Alpine splendor visible from Captain Von Trapp’s terrace in The Sound of Music. It is culturally conservative: the local newspaper recently published an article that asked, “Will the Antichrist be a Homosexual?” It is in this Alaska—where it is possible to be both a conservative Republican and a pothead, or a foursquare Democrat and a gun nut—that Sarah Palin learned everything she knows about politics, and about life. It was in this environment that her ambition first found an outlet in public office, and where she first tasted the 151-proof Everclear that is power.

Palin was a terrible candidate—unprepared and dishonest. But the view along many towns’ front drag “is of Chili’s, ihop, Home Depot, Target, and Arby’s.” Has Purdum, a rather grand Princeton man, never been to such towns? Or was he just letting the darlings know that Chili’s is all this pathetic town has? After all, it’s a town where they drink white lightnin’ (151-proof Everclear). Or so he slickly suggests.

Palin could only have come from Wasilla? It’s hard to know just what that could mean. Presumably, it would have been harder for someone so young and so lacking to get elected governor in some other states—in states with larger populations, for example.

But people with Palin’s political views get elected in many states. Palin could only have come from Wasilla? Do we really know what that means?

Final query: In the mind of a fellow like Purdum, what does it mean to be a “gun nut?” (More specifically, to be a foursquare Democrat and a gun nut?”) He doesn’t feel the need to say. But then, Purdum is paid to reinforce the predispositions of upscale subscriber rubes. In such profiles, finer people—people like Purdum—have always suggested that Palin is really just trailer trash. The kind of trash which hails from towns with Arby’s, white lightin’ and gun nuts.

Purdum comes from a finer class—the class of upper-end scum-bags. But god almighty! How dumb is this man? So dumb he gets cited by Dowd!

Then again, let’s try to be fair. Sure, he got rolled by [two] Wasilla shrinks, not unlike those “fools for scandal” before him. But let’s be fair as we judge this man’s work. It may be that he drank the Everclear before hearing their diagnosis.

Drinking the straight gin martinis: Did Purdum get into the Everclear? If so, it wouldn’t the first time for this hapless elite! One of the original “fools for scandal” produced a famously bungled Whitewater report after having lost a battle with four to six straight gin martinis.

The reporter in question was L. J. Davis; his bungled 1994 report appeared in (what else?) The New Republic, published by (who else?) Andrew Sullivan. (This was just after Sully published Betsy McCaughey’s famously bungled report about the Clinton health plan.) On April 23, 1994, Howard Kurtz did a lengthy report on the ludicrous episode in the Washington Post. We can’t find this report on line; this is unfortunate, because this episode truly belongs in a time capsule. It’s a perfect marker of the lunacy which passed for journalism during the era when Purdum’s dumber-than-dumb, upper-end crowd made a sick joke of our lives.

In the end, they sent George Bush to the White House. Professor Jay Rosen hasn’t heard.

We can’t find Kurtz’s report on-line, and it’s a bit too convoluted to excerpt at this point. Instead, we’ll excerpt the opening of Betty Mills’ review of Fools for Scandal. In 1996, you were allowed to hear about this book—if you read the Bismarck Tribune, for which Mills wrote. Elsewhere, Lyons’ book was largely disappeared by Purdum’s high class, even though Harper’s was behind it:

MILLS (9/4/96): Gene Lyons, a writer and reporter who lives in Little Rock, Ark., does a weekly column for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. It is the only daily paper in the state capital and, despite its name, a conservative paper "that has no love for Bill Clinton."

Lyons, with the editors of Harper's Magazine, has written a book, "Fools For Scandal," subtitled, "How The Media Invented Whitewater." It ought to be required reading for anyone who writes a public line about the Clintons or the variety of hearings, trials, investigations and so-called information pieces which are now identified almost universally under the caption, Whitewater.

What makes the Lyons account particularly compelling is his knowledge of Arkansas history and politics and his carefully documented refutation of a stream of unwarranted assumptions and erroneous facts in the Whitewater case. The overall effect is frightening, however, because clearly evident is the cumulative effect of ignorance, sloppy reporting and malice on the American political scene.

For example, L.J. Davis, who wrote a lengthy article for The New Republic, claimed to have regained consciousness in his locked hotel room one night with a big lump on his head and some of his notes missing. He attributed it to "Clinton thugs."

To the local paper, the Democrat Gazette, that sounded implausible, and they investigated. The bartender at the hotel bar Davis patronized says that, during the time Davis claims to have been knocked out in his room, he was downing five straight gin martinis, and his bar tab confirms it.

Most Americans would flunk a simple test on Whitewater, but we do not expect reporters covering the story to misrepresent the facts out of carelessness or deliberate distortion. One has to wonder, as Lyons does, that "reporters capable of summarizing 10 centuries of Balkan history in a few terse paragraphs pronounced themselves stymied by a $220,000 real estate deal in the Ozarks.”

The Davis piece helped spread the idea that Bill Clinton employed roving gangs of thugs who would beat up, even murder, journalistic giants like Davis. But Davis was a screaming ninny, like the fool for scandal who published him.

Because uh-oh! The New Republic hadn’t mentioned the vicious assault on its worthy reporter by Clinton’s gang of thugs. Kurtz describes what happened next. This represents the start of the path which led us to Iraq:

KURTZ (4/23/94): But the New Republic piece said nothing about Davis's strange experience in Room 502 of the Legacy Hotel. "It's totally irrelevant," Davis says. "Even mentioning it would have sensationalized the story."

Davis discussed the incident with a couple of friends, including one at the New York Times, and word reached the conservative opinion factory at the Wall Street Journal. Editorial writer Paul Gigot, a regular commentator on "The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour," called Davis and interviewed him about the matter. Fellow editorial writer John Fund continued the interview in a second call.

On March 23, declaring that publications should be "willing to report what they learn even at the risk that now and then some of it may be overtaken by other facts," a Journal editorial disclosed what Davis had "modestly omitted" from his article.

Davis was returning to his hotel room about 6:30 p.m., "and the next thing he remembers is waking up face down on the floor, with his arm twisted under his body and a big lump on his head above his left ear. The room door was shut and locked. Nothing was missing except four 'significant' pages of his notebook that included a list of his sources in Little Rock. He didn't file a police report, saying he wanted to get out of town and wasn't sure what had happened to him."

Arkansas, the editorial observed, "seems to be a congenitally violent place."


Before long, conflicting accounts surfaced. John Aulgur, manager of the Legacy Hotel, says: "We have records that he was down here [at the hotel bar] at 10:30 that night," or at the end of the four-hour period in which Davis says he was unconscious. "There is something odd about the story."

Van Alexander Jr., a bartender at the hotel, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that Davis was at the bar throughout the evening. He said Davis ordered a cheeseburger, french fries and four to six martinis made of straight gin. "If he had asked for another one, he wouldn't have gotten it, because I would have felt like he had too many," Alexander said.

Davis says he recalls having four martinis, "which is no more than I drank on any other night in Little Rock."

In recent interviews, Davis has tried to play down the episode, expressing puzzlement that anyone would think anything untoward happened. "I certainly wasn't about to conclude that somebody cracked me on the head. ... I simply do not know," he says. A moment later he says: "Now I'm beginning to doubt my own perceptions."

Davis says the Journal erred when it reported that four pages of his notebook were missing; they were only ripped. "I could have torn those pages myself when I stuck the notebook back in my shoulder bag," he says.

The writer says he asked Fund "to print a correction about the missing pages and being conked on the head." Fund says they only had an "offhand" conversation and Davis has made no formal request.

"I admit to being somewhat confused, but I do believe something happened to him," Fund says. "I have to tell you, strange things do happen down there."

Meanwhile, the Davis saga touched off a tiff at the generally pro-Clinton New Republic. Columnist Michael Kinsley chided his own magazine in print for publishing the Davis article and for not sharing the "bizarre" hotel episode with its readers.

"My feeling is, if it happened, it's very important, and if it didn't happen, it calls his whole credibility into question," Kinsley says.

Duh. But gaze on the state of your republic as the Clinton/Gore era was dawning! Omitted in all this: Lyons’ detailed explanation, in Fools for Scandal, of the vast extent of Davis’ errors about Arkansas’ political history over the previous decade. Errors which were blatant and central to the bungled case he had built.

Sadly, the career liberal world has agreed to pretend that this astounding decade never happened. (By the end of this decade, Gennifer Flowers was being given hour-long segments on cable “news” shows to discuss the Clintons’ many murders. And to explain that Hillary Clinton was the world’s most giant lesbo. Yes, these things did occur.) After all, young liberal writers are standing in line, dreaming of jobs at the very news orgs which invented these hoaxes. They want to appear on Hardball themselves! They want to make Mommy proud.

This week, we may have gotten our own generation’s successor to martini-man Davis. Todd Purdum may have drunk the Everclear on his trip to wildest Wasilla! That DSM diagnosis had been widespread for years. But after gulping the Everclear down, Purdum couldn’t remember!

Maureen Dowd didn’t seem to know either. Is she on the Everclear now?